Military escalation in Red Sea slowing peace efforts in Yemen, warns UN special envoy

Hans Grundberg says parties 'prefer' peace but regional situation is complicating process

A fighter jet takes off from a US aircraft carrier in the southern Red Sea. AP
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest on Israel-Gaza

The UN Special Envoy to Yemen warned on Wednesday that increased regional tension linked to the Israel-Gaza war, particularly recent attacks by Houthi rebels in the Red Sea, are hindering peace efforts in the war-torn country.

Hans Grundberg told the UN Security Council that “all parties” in the Yemen conflict “prefer the path to peace” but said recent escalations were creating new dangers.

Yemen's Iran-backed Houthis have unleashed dozens of attacks against international shipping in the Red Sea since shortly after the war started in October.

Those attacks and a number of US and UK retaliatory strikes have brought Yemen to a dangerous inflection point, right as efforts to secure a long-standing peace deal in the country's civil war had been making progress.

“Three things need to happen in the immediate term to create an off-ramp to this dangerous escalatory cycle,” Mr Grundberg stated, calling for regional de-escalation, for all parties to refrain from “military opportunism” and for progress towards a mediated agreement to be protected.

“What happens regionally impacts Yemen, and what happens in Yemen can impact the region,” he told council members.

In December, Mr Grundberg told the 15-member Security Council that the warring parties in Yemen had agreed to work towards the resumption of an inclusive political process but noted that rising regional tension linked to the war in Gaza, “and in particular the military escalation in the Red Sea, are slowing down the pace of peace efforts”.

Mr Grundberg said he has tried to insulate the peace process from wider regional dynamics, but the mediation landscape is now “much more complex, and efforts to reach an agreement are being buffeted by different priorities and interests”.

He also expressed concern that the US decision to return the Houthis as a Specially Designated Terrorist Group could potentially complicate peace mediation efforts.

“My work will continue no matter what. It is therefore imperative that we protect the political space, that communication channels are kept open and that all actors remain actively engaged with my efforts.”

The US designation, announced last month, takes effect on February 16 and hits the rebel group with sanctions that aim to cut off funding and weapons the Houthis use for attacks on ships in the Red Sea shipping lanes.

On Washington's decision to relist the Houthis as a terrorist group, US deputy ambassador Robert Wood said it seeks “to narrowly target the Houthis' terrorist activities, while mitigating any humanitarian harm on the people of Yemen”.

Mr Wood accused the rebel group of applying a “chokehold” on global shipping through the Red Sea.

The Houthis claim their attacks in the Red Sea are acts of solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza war.

Updated: February 14, 2024, 6:36 PM